New England Agency of the Year: Arnold

Four rows of rowdy Arnold staffers rocked John Hancock Hall with cheers as the agency picked up trophy after trophy at the Francis W. Hatch Awards. By the end of that September night, Arnold had won about a third of the honors, including best of show for its American Legacy Foundation “Truth” campaign.

The Havas-owned shop had its mojo back, and in the last third of the year, Arnold secured approximately $100 million in new business.

The agency’s haul at the awards, which honor regional creative excellence, was a rousing vote of confidence and a welcome ego boost. It came two months after the Boston-based shop learned that despite its exhausting efforts in the U.S. Postal Service review, the $100 million account would go to the team of Campbell-Ewald and DraftWorldwide.

“Very disappointed and surprised,” says chief creative and chairman Ron Law ner of the mood at the agency last summer.

But by the close of 2002, Arnold had added Coors, Dunlop Tires, Gillette’s Oral-B, Celeb rity Cruises, McDonald’s New England co-ops and Boston Market for some $110-130 million in billings. For those significant client victories and its top-notch creative work, Arnold is Adweek’s New England Agency of the Year.

Arnold’s managers are proud of the shop’s estimated 9 percent billings and revenue increases in Boston in light of the economic climate—which, they point out, can make creative excellence difficult to maintain. “We had a good creative year in tough times, when budgets were tight and clients’ tolerance for risks got lower,” says managing partner and group creative director Jay Williams.

At the Hatch Awards, Arnold won seven golds, two for the Legacy campaign it shares with Miami-based Crispin Por ter + Bogusky and five for its signature “Drivers Wanted” effort for Volkswagen.

The 2002 Legacy campaign included a spot in which a giant rat emerges from a New York subway station gasping for breath. It holds a sign in its paws that reads, “There’s cyanide in cigarette smoke. Same as in rat poison.” American Legacy CEO Cheryl Healton praises the hard-hitting effort as, “sure to turn heads.”

The VW work also stood out, notably a commercial in which a man shopping for a Beetle licks a car’s door lock and handle to dissuade other prospective buyers. A music-video-like spot introducing the new convertible tells a visually compelling tale of an office worker yearning to escape drudgery.

But, Williams argues, the agency has reached a “creative maturity” that goes beyond VW. “We make it happen for a whole range of clients,” he says.

That depth was on display in June at the Effies, the awards for effectiveness. Arnold racked up eight wins—placing second to Leo Burnett—including gold awards for VW, Monster.com, Royal Car ibbean and Titleist. “We’re always concerned about actually making the creative work,” says Williams. “[So] we put a lot of stock in the Effies.”

Lawner believes that’s a mark of “great creative versus great advertising.” The latter “has the ability to last, to stand the test of time” and help agencies grow over the long haul, Lawner says.

Capitalizing on that philosophy during pitches is crucial, Arnold executives say. Case in point: Boston Market, the 650-unit food chain, which awarded the agency creative duties on its account in October. Arnold—already a roster shop for Boston Market parent McDonald’s—prevailed over incumbent Suissa Miller and Wieden + Kennedy with work portraying the client as a healthy lifestyle choice for harried consumers. The shop also promised to boost foot traffic, says president Fran Kelly.

Arnold “did a great job of left- and right-brain thinking—they pulled to gether the rational and emotional points of view,” says Trey Hall, Boston Market chief marketing officer. “They created fresh and relevant communications to build an emotional connection and drive traffic. We had to have both.”

The Boston Market pitch, like others that followed the USPS defeat, illustrated a marked change in Arnold’s new-business strategy. Lawner says he and Kelly focused on prospects that played to Arnold’s strengths and its experience in the travel, dining and consumer-services sectors.

Looking back at the USPS review, Lawner admits he “might have been a little naive” about what the client was looking for. After the losing effort, Lawner and Kelly—who assumed their posts in late 2000 to allow chairman and CEO Ed Eskandarian to focus on building Arnold’s worldwide network—were determined to capitalize on the lessons learned. The loss “helped us get back on our winning streak,” says Kelly.

Lawner proudly displayed Arnold’s proposed USPS ads (which he says evolved the “Brought to you by the U.S. Postal Service” theme to encompass the range of client offerings) in the agency’s lobbies and corridors to boost morale.

It seems to have worked. The late-year comeback, say Arnold executives and agency observers, came as no surprise. The shop’s corporate culture breeds a laid-back atmosphere that prizes teamwork and levelheadedness over quick fixes, flash and pizzazz. “There was no panic, no taking in crappy business,” Kelly says. “The thinking was long term. Pick your spots … pitch clients you can win. [Continue to] promote from within; don’t let good people go just because money is tight.”

In some ways, Kelly and Lawner view 2002 as the year they emerged from under Eskandarian’s shadow to put their own stamp on the agency, a transitional period during which they fine-tuned their team. Karen Driscoll, Phil Reilly and Pam Hamlin were named to head, respectively, agency operations, new business and account management.

“In a tough year, Arnold grew stronger,” says Kelly. It’s ready to face its first big challenge of the year: the agency and CP+B must defend the creative portion of the $75-100 million American Legacy account in a mandatory review.

“I think we’ve done outstanding work,” says Kelly. “We feel we have an excellent chance to prevail.”

STATISTICS

BILLINGS
Up 9 percent to $1 billion (est.)

REVENUE
Up 9 percent to $116 million (est.)

WIN/LOSS PITCH RATIO
5 out of 10

ACCOUNTS WON/MEDIA BUDGET*
Boston Market/$35 million
Dunlop Tires/$25-30 million
Celebrity Cruises/$20-25 million
Coors/$15-20 million
McDonald’s Co-ops/$15-20 million

ACCOUNTS LOST/MEDIA BUDGET*
Honeywell Consumer Products/$10-15 million
Mass. Department of Public Health Tobacco Control/$5-8 million (funding terminated)

HIGHLIGHTS

Named Phil Reilly, Pam Hamlin and Karen Driscoll to head new business, account management and agency operations, respectively; won 103 prizes at the Hatch Awards.

*Only largest accounts included.

Sources: Adweek, agency reports and CMR.